My heels hit the pavement with a muffled thud that keeps time with the music streaming in my ear. I've been fussing with the wire to my headphones, trying to rearrange the line moving down the inside of my shirt to the iPhone in my hand without losing my balance and accidentally stepping out in front of a car. Frustrated, I finally pull the plugs from my ears and wrap the cord around my wrist, content to let my feet provide base to accompany the chirping birds' melody as I finish my jog.
I’ve only recently started running again, pounding the pavement on my neighborhood streets as much for the fitness benefits as for the opportunity to get outside and absorb the beauty of my environment. Running and I don’t really get along (you can read a bit about that here, from the old Bella Eats) so my mileage is pretty light and my pace is fairly slow. I typically try to distract myself either with a talkative buddy or a good Pandora station on my iPod, but lately have found that my surroundings are distraction enough.
In the last few weeks I’ve witnessed the transition of dry, yellow lawns into luscious, chartreuse carpets speckled with sunny dandelions and dusty purple violets. I’ve waited patiently for the lilac bush at the top of one long, steadily-sloped hill to come to bloom and finally, just last week, was able to stop for a few deep inhales of oh-so-sweet perfume from its clumps of delicate blossoms. As my feet pad-pad-pad the concrete sidewalk I’ve found my head spinning in all directions to absorb freshly-mulched flower beds that first showcased crocuses in mid-March, revealed daffodils two weeks later and tulips two weeks after that. The ethereal quality of each April day is enough to entice me to lace up my shoes and walk out the door, always excited to see what’s changed in the few days since I last plodded around the neighborhood.
As I peak the last small hill before the intersection one block from my house I am hot and sweaty, my skin bright pink and glistening with tiny beads of moisture. I reach the corner and slow to a walk, raising my hands to the top of my head and taking in a few deep, slightly ragged breaths. The breeze picks up just then, sweeping through the branches overhead to send a cascade of browning cherry blossoms swirling towards the ground. This is the last of them, the white and pink flowers have been slowly pushed out by darkening green leaves over the last couple of weeks. I’ll miss the bright, cottony treetops, but now we have floppy dogwood blossoms and bright fuchsia azaleas to admire. And after that there will be wild sweet peas and multiflora rose, both lending the air surrounding Charlottesville with the sweetest scent you can imagine, making the deep, ragged breaths at the end of a run a bit more tolerable.
The sun is setting now, giving the golden evening light a hint of green as beams filter through the new growth on our backyard trees. I stretch on the back deck for a few minutes, sinking my hips deep into a lunge as the Spring breeze brushes over my still-damp skin, sending a little smattering of goosebumps up my cooling arms. It’s going to get chilly overnight, despite the mid-day temperature of 65-degrees.
This is so typical for Charlottesville this time of year - daily temperatures that swing from the 30's to the 70's and back in just 24 hours' time. It calls for a little planning in the morning, a layering of clothing to be sure you're warm enough when you walk out the door but not too hot when you step out for lunch. It means watching the forecast carefully to be sure that those plants that spent the Winter indoors and "just want a little sunshine!" on the back deck are brought in before the air turns too cool. It also means preparing meals that satisfy a plethora of cravings, from light and bright to comforting and warm.
As I finish my stretching and head inside my nose absorbs the scent of chicken braising in a bath of milk, lemon, sage and cinnamon. There is soup too, a zippy puree of Winter-Spring veggies. I am glad that I thought to start dinner prior to my run, because although standing in a hot kitchen prepping dinner sounds miserable right now, in thirty minutes the cool air slipping through our windows will have me wanting a warm and comforting meal. A warm and comforting meal that is, at the same time, light and bright with the promise of Spring.
This soup is perfect on these Spring days with nights that feel closer to Winter. The parsnips are strong, so if you're looking for just a hint of the root I'd reduce their amount to 1/2 pound and up your potato count to 3. Be sure to add the squeeze of lemon at the end, it really makes the asparagus shine.
Creamy Asparagus and Parsnip Soup
- 3 tbsp butter
- 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced to 1-inch chunks
- about 3/4 pound parsnips, peeled and diced to 1-inch rounds
- 1/2 large onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed, chopped to 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup white wine
- 4-5 cups chicken broth
- salt and pepper
- 1 lemon
- Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, parsnips, onion, garlic, and asparagus and stir to coat with butter. Cover pot and let veggies sweat for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes and parsnips are slightly tender.
- Add white wine to pot and stir to deglaze bottom of pan if there are any bits of veggie stuck. Add the chicken broth, enough to just cover all of the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes and parsnips are fully tender, another 10 minutes or so.
- Using an immersion blender or a regular blender, puree the vegetables until you have a smooth, creamy consistency devoid of any chunks. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, to taste.
This chicken is everything that everybody has raved about. Moist and flavorful, it is wonderful on its own dressed simply with the sauce created from the braising liquid.
Braised Chicken in Milk
- 3-1/2 pound organic chicken
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 stick of butter
- olive oil
- cinnamon stick (mine was about 3 inches in length)
- handful of fresh sage leaves, removed from stem
- zest of 2 lemons
- 10 cloves of garlic (I removed the skin)
- 1 pint milk
- Preheat your oven to 375*.
- Rinse and thoroughly dry your chicken.
- Rub your chicken down with sea salt and black pepper, evenly and thoroughly. Heat a large oven-proof pot on your stove top and melt the stick of butter and a glug of olive oil together. Place the chicken in the pot, breast-side down, and fry until golden brown. Turn bird to all sides to get even, golden color. This should take about 10 minutes.
- Remove the bird from the pot and place on a plate. Discard the remaining butter and oil. Put the bird back in the pot (don't mind all of the little brown bits at the bottom of the pot, they will add tremendous flavor to the final sauce) and add the rest of your ingredients. Place the pot in the oven, covered, and cook chicken for 90 minutes. Baste with the cooking juices whenever you remember (which I did 2 or 3 times). If you think about it, remove the lid for the last 30 minutes of cooking, so that the skin will crisp up a bit. If not, no biggie.
- To serve, pull all of the neat from the bones and divide amongst 4 plates. Be sure to siphon up the juices in the pot including the curds, which I know look weird but add so much flavor to the sauce. I put the sauce in a jelly jar and shook it really hard, to help incorporate those curds into the liquid so that they didn't look so funny on my chicken. Spoon the sauce over the pulled chicken and ENJOY!
Be sure to fish out all of the garlic cloves from the pot when the chicken is done. Spread them over thick slices of chunky bread, and swoon!